While it’s certainly possible to build muscle and gain strength without the use of supplements or steroids, performance-enhancing drugs are nonetheless widely used. According to a number of studies, including one recent one conducted at Freie Universität in Germany, the compound called ecdysterone may be an especially effective supplement for enhancing strength and muscle recovery.
Is ecdysterone a steroid? Are ecdysterone supplements safe?
Let’s look below at how this compound works, as well as potential benefits and risks of using it.
What Is Ecdysterone?
Ecdysterone is a type of ecdysteroid compound that is naturally found in some insects and plants, including spinach. It’s primarily taken in supplement form to improve muscle gains and athletic performance.
Some research suggests it can help people put on lean muscle mass and increase strength and power more easily within about two to three months.
Ecdysterone supplements also go by several other names, including spinach extract, 20-hydroxy-ecdysterone, beta-ecdysterone and alfa-ecdysone.
Is ecdysterone a hormone?
Ecdysterone is a natural type of steroid that is derived from certain plants, including spinach and quinoa. It’s technically a type of phytoecdysteroid.
Keep in mind that “steroids” are organic compounds and not necessarily the same thing as synthetic anabolic steroids (variations of the male sex hormone testosterone).
Does ecdysterone increase testosterone? Because it has a similar chemical structure to the hormone testosterone, it may have some hormone-mimicking effects. However ,it isn’t the same thing as taking testosterone, and it isn’t considered to be an artificial hormone that is used for hormone replacement therapy.
That said, it’s still believed to be pretty potent and may have similar effects to certain legal and illegal steroids, including prohibited anabolic agents, such as metandienone. Some even speculate that it’s stronger and more effective than other steroids that are currently banned in competitive sports.
Does ecdysterone really work?
Reliable studies focusing on this compound have been limited overall considering it’s only recently become more widely available to the public as a supplement. Based on available research and testimonials, here’s what we know about its potential benefits:
1. May Help Improve Muscle Building
Ecdysterone is thought to help increase protein synthesis, which means it might make it easier to put on muscle mass when you consistently do strength-training exercises.
Some research has shown that it has a high “anabolic ratio,” meaning it potentially can contribute to increased:
- stimulation of muscle cell formation (anabolism)
- protein synthesis from amino acids
- red blood cell production
- bone remodeling and growth
It’s thought that echysterone has anabolic effects that are mediated by its estrogen receptor (ER) binding properties. ERβ signaling is involved in the regulation of skeletal muscle growth and regeneration and also modulated immune function.
Ecdysterone also seems to support muscle protein synthesis by affecting PI3K/Akt signaling pathways.
A 2015 study conducted on rats found that ecdysterone exhibited a strong hypertrophic effect on the fiber size of certain muscles in the rats, even stronger than other steroid compounds, including metandienone, estradienedione and SARM-S-1, when administered at the same dose.
2. May Assist in Athletic Performance
Ecdysteroid supplements are appealing to athletes and bodybuilders because they not only build muscle, but can also reduce fatigue and ease recovery. At one point, beta-ecdysone was even nicknamed the “Russian secret” because supposedly it was used by Russian Olympic athletes.
In 2019, researchers from Freie Universität in Berlin examined the performing-enhancing effects of ecdysterone and found that it did in fact contribute to greater muscle strength and recovery in young men who exercised.
In this particular study, 46 participants were split into two groups for 10 weeks: those who took different doses of ecdysterone-containing supplements and those who did not. Significantly higher increases in muscle mass were observed in participants who took ecdysterone, as well as significant increases in one-repetition bench press performance.
In fact, ecdysterone was found to be so effective that the researchers recommended adding it to to lists of prohibited steroid compounds among competitive athletes.
3. Might Help Improve Insulin Sensitivity
While more research on this topic is warranted, at least one animal study found that ecdysterone supplements could support metabolic health, including by preventing insulin resistance, hyperglycemia (high blood sugar, which is related to type 2 diabetes) and obesity.
The 2009 study found evidence that daily oral administration of ecdysterone in rats at doses of 10 milligrams per kilogram of body weight for 13 weeks ameliorated obesity and insulin resistance. These rats were fed a high-fat diet, but the supplementation seemed to prevent significant increases in body weight gain and body fat mass compared with nontreated animals.
Plasma insulin levels and glucose tolerance were also significantly lowered in the group given the ecdysterone.
4. Might Support Immune Function
Ecdysteroids seem to have some adaptogenic effects that can help the body cope with stress and pathogens. Some potential ways that this compound may support homeostasis and immune function include by:
- Increasing red blood cell number
- Improving quality of sleep
- Improving tolerance to thermal stress
- Supporting cardiac function and circulation
- Stimulating bone growth
- Having anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects
Risks and Side Effects
Ecdysterone is considered to be generally safe as long as it’s not overused. In the U.S., it’s currently not banned or treated like a steroid, however it is on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) 2021 Monitoring Program list, which means WADA intends to gather more information about the substance to determine if it should be prohibited or not.
One of the most reliable studies mentioned above found that taking it in supplement form did not lead to symptoms of liver or kidney toxicity. It also seems to lead to fewer side effects compared to other steroid drugs, such as changes in appetite, mood, libido, hair growth and sleep.
To avoid potential side effects, or to simply avoid wasting your money, make sure to purchase a high-quality ecdysterone supplement from a reputable seller. Some research suggests that combining ecdysterone (or 20-Hydroxyecdysone) with cyclodextrin can help improve absorption of this compound, so consider looking for a supplement that “stacks” these two ingredients together.
Beta-ecdysterone dosages vary depending on the individual using the supplement. There currently isn’t a standard dosage recommendation, which means reading the product’s directions carefully is important.
In studies, low dosages between 12 milligrams per day and 45 milligrams per day have been taken safely for about 10 weeks. This amount has been shown to be enough to promote gains in muscle mass when coupled with consistent strength-training.
Combining it with cyclodextrin may help with absorption and potentially result in even more benefits.
However, some people report taking much higher doses with good results, up to 500 mg to 1,000 mg per day. While higher doses may lead to more improvements in muscle mass and strength, this also comes with more risk.
Overall, it’s best to start with a lower dose and test your reaction, and then increase as needed.
Ecdysterone vs. Turkesterone
Turkesterone is a bioactive compound found in certain thistle-like plants that grows in Central Asia. It has a long history of use in traditional medicine for its anabolic and adaptogenic effects.
Turkesterone is similar to ecdysterone because both are natural phytoecdysteroids. They are derived from the same plants and used for similar purposes, including to enhance exercise performance and put on muscle mass.
Research suggests that both of these compounds are typically effective, but testimonials seem to indicate that turkesterone may be a bit more potent. (It’s pricer, to0.)
There’s evidence that turkesterone can help increase one’s muscle-to-fat ratio, increase glycogen concentrations in muscles and increase ATP synthesis that can help your body remove lactic acid so you recover from workouts better.
- Beta-ecdysterone (also called 20-Hydroxyecdysone) is a type of phytoecdysteroid that is derived from insects and some plants like spinach and quinoa.
- Ecdysterone supplements are taken for their performance-enhancing effects. They may help boost muscle mass, strength, powder and recovery.